“It’s a sad day for hockey fans in Atlanta, but the franchise is going to a good place and run by good people,” Waddell said.
The NHL is giving up an American market that has more than 5 million people in the metro Atlanta area and heading to Winnipeg, which will be the league’s smallest market with the smallest arena.
The team will play in the 15,015-seat MTS Center, but in a wave of enthusiasm, the club sold-out 13,000 season tickets in a matter of minutes earlier this month when they were made available days after the sale was announced.
Still, the team will have to win if that excitement is going to be sustained past the first few years.
“Winnipeg could’ve sold the building out three times,” Toronto general manager Brian Burke said. “It’s not a sprint, owning and operating and supporting a professional sports franchise. The first five years aren’t your challenge. There is always a rush of euphoria, there’s a rush of patriotism that we’re going to support this team.
“I believe in the marketplace, but everyone in Winnipeg has to support this team. It’s far from over.”
In other news from Tuesday’s meeting, the board approved two amendments to rules regarding player safety. The year-old Rule 48 will now apply to all hits that target the head of an opponent, and not only those from the blindside. Also, boarding infractions will be treated more severely. Players must let up on hits into the boards that might not necessarily be violent, but are deemed dangerous _ including pushes.
Bettman said next year’s salary-cap figure still needs to be finalized with the players’ union, but it is expected to rise from $59.4 million to about $63 million or $64 million. It has increased every year since its inception of $39 million after the 2004-05 lockout.
The Thrashers made the playoffs in 2007, but were swept in four games by the New York Rangers. Atlanta had only one season in which it won more games than it lost. Now the Thrashers will be a footnote in hockey history.
Although the Winnipeg franchise has yet to pick a name, it will not be the Thrashers. The club will bear no resemblance to the one that briefly called Atlanta home.
Waddell, general manager Rick Dudley and coach Craig Ramsay won’t make the move to Manitoba. Dudley completed just one year of a four-year deal after he replaced Waddell, and Ramsay was one year into a two-year contract.
The Thrashers’ ownership dealt with major financial problems and declining attendance in recent years. The team had the league’s third-worst attendance last season, averaging fewer than 14,000 a game.
“They certainly made every effort they possibly could to have it work. It didn’t work,” Lamoriello said.
Winnipeg had set its sights on the troubled Phoenix Coyotes, hoping to bring back the former Jets, but that team was saved last month for at least another season in the desert after the city of Glendale, Ariz. _ where the club’s arena is located _ voted to subsidize the team as it seeks a new owner.
Canadian billionaire David Thomson, who heads the Winnipeg ownership group along with Mark Chipman, went hard after an NHL team when the Coyotes and the Thrashers fell into serious financial trouble.View Entire Story
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